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12 Essential Facts they didn't teach you in film school

A collection of fundamentals for new entrants to the screen production industry.

1) You are not an employee of the producer.
You will be working in an industry where you will be regarded as an independent contractor even if you think (and are treated as if) you are an employee. An independent contractor is a business entity. Your contractual terms and conditions will be subject to commercial law and you will not be covered by the Employment Relations Act. You will have no industrial rights under industrial law.

Note that if you believe you are in an employee/employer relationship, you have every right to challenge your independent contractor status through the Employment Relations Authority and the courts. NB in October 2010 the Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Bill was passed by the New Zealand Government. This amendment (coined 'the Hobbit Law') removes the right of contractors in Film Production to challenge employers as described above. Contractors in Television retain the right all other workers have to go to court where they believe working conditions provided to them as contractors more accurately meet the definitions of employee status.

2) You are ultimately responsible for your own safety.
As a contractor, you are primarily responsible for your own health and safety policy. The producer may have their own, but an independent contractor is potentially more liable for safety responsibility than an employee would be. Each Guild member receives a copy of The Safety Code of Practice, which is the industry standard safety document.

You have every right to refuse to do something which does not appear to be safe.

3) Get your self insured.
If you are a contractor then you are in business and you should cover yourself for risk. You will be responsible for your own ACC payments (a compulsory insurance). The Guild recommends that all screen production crew take out public liability insurance to cover for unseen disasters.

You should also consider loss of income (Income protection) for illness and injury. HOD’s should also consider Professional Indemnity and Resource Management risks.

Understand that producers want you to be liable for damage to anything so they don’t have to pay for anything that goes wrong.

You can’t insure yourself against damage to vehicles rented by the producer or other crew members, so if you have an accident they may insist you pay. Don’t do this under any circumstances (unlawful acts excepted). Let them take you to court first.
4) Taxation
Most crew who don’t derive a substantial part of their income from equipment rental in addition to their personal fees will have withholding tax deducted from their fees by most producers. Your accountant will advise you if you should get a certificate of exemption to withholding tax and pay tax under the provisional tax system.

Do not ignore your requirement to complete a tax return each year. As an independent contractor you must fill out an annual tax return.

If your gross (total before tax) income, including per diems and allowances, was more than $60,000 over the last 12 months or is likely to be more than $60,000 over the next 12 months, you must register for GST

5) Get an accountant.
For contractors, an accountant will cost $400-1500 per year depending on your income and how much book keeping (as distinct from tax return) work they have to do for you. An accountant will save you money.  

6) Keep records.
As a business you are entitled to claim a tax deduction for all work related expenses such as phone, vehicle, office, safety clothing, kit and equipment. Your accountant will provide advice on what you can and cannot claim.

7) Put your bank details on your invoice.
You are more likely to be paid quickly if you attach a deposit slip or clearly write your bank details on your invoice. See the article How to write an invoice

8) You are an unsecured creditor.
Understand that the production companies you work with will treat you as another business (and you are!) and so may well decide that you will extend their credit by taking a long time to pay you. You should state your own terms of payment (See the article How to write an invoice) but few producers will pay on your terms. You can only take legal action after written complaints and three months of non-payment. 

As an unsecured creditor you are well down the queue for payment if/when a production falls over. Secured creditors may include banks, Inland Revenue, major equipment hire and airlines - also ahead of you are any employees of the company. This means one of your main (and only) means of protection is diligence before even signing on - that is investigation into key players before signing on to any project, but especially one where these players are relatively uknown.

9) Understand the basic contractual agreement in our industry.
Known as the Blue Book. It is the bible of the commercial and broadcast production markets and the reference to the drama industry. If you don’t know what’s in the book, you won’t know how to fill out your invoice.

10) Understand that you are not a charity.
The New Zealand production industry seems to believe that crew members should subsidise the production by doing work for free or in their own time. The drama industry commonly asks that day players subsidise them by working for 10 3/4 or 12-hour days for a 10-hour rate.  Work for free on short films by all means but do not subsidise fully funded productions just to get a job. If you do, consider when you will actually give up this habit and what impact your choice has on conditions overall in the industry.

11) You’ll be on my next movie!
Understand that when a producer says if you work on this project for less money and then you will be on full rates for the next, that you have a less than 20% chance of even being on the next project.

12) What was your name again?
Don’t just send out your CV to producers and expect a job. Make yourself personally known to all the producers, production managers and heads of department who are likely to want your services.  

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